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Return to school: Education union boss 'confident' of safe opening amid coronavirus surges

·3 min read

Millions of unvaccinated students are set to go back to school as the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus drives a surge in hospitalizations across the U.S. 

At the same time, schools are much more prepared than last year, according to the president of the country's largest union.

“Let me tell you why I’m confident — it's because we’ve learned a lot this year… Follow the science, listen to the health care and infectious disease experts, listen to the educators on how we bring school students back to school, safely, and equitably,” National Education Association (NEA) President Becky Pringle told Yahoo Finance Live (video above).

The U.S. is now averaging more than 100,000 new confirmed COVID-19 cases a day for the first time since February. As the Delta variant circulates widely in the U.S., the CDC is currently recommending that everyone in areas with high transmission — regardless of vaccination status — wear masks indoors.

Elementary schoolchildren raise their hands while sitting at their desks in the classroom.
Children at elementary school wearing protective face masks in the classroom.

“What do we know about the Delta variant? ... We know it has the ability to be more infectious and we also know it seems to be having a greater impact on kids," Pringle said. "So we need to ensure that every mitigation strategy is in place. Number one... [is] vaccination, vaccination, vaccination.”

There were nearly 94,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in children between July 29 and August 5, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, comprising about 15% of the total confirmed U.S. cases during that time period. There is not yet an approved vaccine for children under 12, and vaccination rates vary widely across U.S. states.

Teachers in some large cities, including San Francisco and New York City, are required to be vaccinated before coming back to school. Other areas of the countries are dealing with mask bans that could threaten proper safety measures being applied in schools.

The NEA president noted that one of the key differences between this school year and last is that many more schools now have the resources to follow CDC recommended mitigation strategies such as improved heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems in addition to masking and social distancing.

“When you intentionally put in place the processes, systems, and structures to support partnership and collaboration among everyone, all the adults in the system, then they are making decisions based on science, and they are taking the shared responsibility,” Pringle said.

She explained that she was specifically referring to "the educators and the administrators and the parents and the community, the health care professionals, the infectious disease experts, all of these people are coming together. When the CDC guidelines come out, [those groups] come together, meet, take a look at the infectious rates in the community, and then make a decision and do it together. And that’s what I’m confident about. If our schools and districts, and communities do that, we can safely have our students back in school learning."

Reggie Wade is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @ReggieWade.

Aarthi is a reporter for Yahoo Finance covering student debt and higher education. Reach out to her at aarthi@yahoofinance.com.

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